Articulation Disorder vs Phonology Disorder

Articulation Disorder vs Phonology Disorder

Phonological and Articulation Disorders are types of speech sound disorders that can impact an individual’s ability to speak clearly and be understood by others. But many people wonder what is the difference between the two. While these two types of speech sound disorders have similarities, they are also significantly different, and the approach in speech therapy varies a fair bit as well. The ability to produce speech and be understood when interacting with others has major effects on an individual’s potential to succeed at school, at home, in social situations, and professionally. 

Speech therapy for speech sound disorders is a highly effective treatment option for anyone who is struggling to produce clear and accurate speech. Getting started with virtual speech therapy through Great Speech is simple and easy. Connect with us by scheduling your free introductory call today! 

What is a Speech Sound Disorder?

The term ‘speech sound disorder’ is a general term that refers to challenges or a combination of challenges involving phonological representation, perception, and motor production of speech sounds and speech elements. Speech sound disorders can be defined as either organic or functional in nature. Organic speech sound disorders typically result from an underlying issue related to motor/neurological, structural, or sensory/perceptual abilities. Functional speech sound disorders are generally idiopathic, which means they have no identifiable cause. 

What is the Difference between Phonation and Articulation? 

In order to understand the different types of speech sound disorders, knowing the difference between articulation and phonology is highly important. Articulation involves the movement of the speech mechanisms (also referred to as the articulators, which include the tongue, lips, larynx, teeth, hard palate, jaw, nose, and mouth) to accurately produce speech. If any of the articulators are not working as they should, are damaged, weak, improperly formed, or out-of-sync with the others, then a resulting speech sound disorder may be identified as an articulation disorder. Articulation is the correct and coordinated movements of the articulators to produce coherent speech.

Phonology, however, involves the rules within the sound system of language. These rules oversee speech sounds, which includes the effective production and combination of these sounds into intelligible speech.

What is an Articulation Disorder?

An articulation disorder involves difficulties producing specific sounds. Younger children frequently make speech sound errors, such as substituting an ‘r’ or ‘l’ sound with a ‘w’ sound, such as saying ‘wabbit’ instead of ‘rabbit. While most children will outgrow these tendencies and will be able to accurately produce the speech sounds that they previously could not, some children will need extra support to accomplish this. An articulation disorder means that the individual is unable to accurately produce certain speech sounds (also referred to as phonemes) because of improper placement, timing, pressure, and speed of the articulators. 

What is a Phonology Disorder?

 A phonology or phonological disorder is defined as an over-simplification of the regular speech sound system that causes repeated and patterned speech sound errors. An example of a phonological disorder includes producing specific sounds at the front of the mouth (such as ‘t’ and ‘d’) are instead produced from the back of the mouth (such as ‘k’ and ‘g’.) This can result in saying ‘tat’ instead of ‘cat’ or ‘do’ instead of ‘go.’ As is the case in articulation disorders, these substitutions are appropriate and common in young children. When the child does not outgrow these errors as they grow and develop, this becomes a phonology disorder. 

To highlight the key differences, an articulation disorder involves challenges at the phonetic level, meaning producing certain individual speech sounds is difficult or impossible, despite no known problem with the articulators. Whereas a phonological disorder involves challenges at the phonemic (meaning in the mind) or cognitive/linguistic level. 

If you think your child would benefit from extra support or you are concerned about the development of their speech and language skills, speech therapy is a good next step. Get started by scheduling your free introductory call today! 

What are the Signs of an Articulation or Phonology Disorder?

The American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) has identified some signs and indications that a child may need intervention due to a speech sound disorder. These include:

The child by 3 years old cannot:

  • Be understood by familiar people (family, caregivers, etc.)
  • Accurately produce vowels and certain consonant sounds such as p, b, m, and w in words
  • Repeat their words when not understood by others without becoming upset or frustrated

The child by 4 years old cannot:

  • Be understood by those they interact with less regularly
  • Be well understood by family and caregivers
  • Accurately produce t, d, k, g, and f letter sounds
  • Be asked to repeat themselves without becoming sensitive or defensive

The child by 5 years old cannot:

  • Be understood by most others in all situations
  • Accurately produce the majority of speech sounds
  • Be asked to repeat themselves without appearing frustrated

What Causes Articulation & Phonology Disorders?

While the causes of some articulation and phonological disorders are known, in the majority of cases the cause is not identified. Several studies have identified the following risk factors for the development of a speech sound disorder:

  • Being born male
  • Pre- and perinatal problems
  • Prolonged oral sucking habits (for example prolonged and excessive sucking of pacifiers or thumb)
  • Problems with the ears, nose, and throat 
  • Having a more reactive temperament
  • Family history of speech and language difficulties
  • An absence or lack of support related to learning in the home

Can you have a Phonological and Articulation Disorder?

It is possible for an articulation and phonology disorder to occur in the same individual. In these cases, both error types would need to be identified and treated by a speech and language pathologist, and would likely require two separate treatment plans. 

How Does Speech Therapy Help with Articulation & Phonology Disorders?

Speech therapy for individuals with a speech sound disorder will vary depending on the diagnosis and specific speech challenges of the individual. Treatment for an articulation disorder will focus on mastering the motor movement that is required to accurately produce the speech sound. For example, the speech therapist may use a cue such as “bite your lip and blow on it” to demonstrate the proper production of “f” in isolation, then add the sound into certain words, then sentences, and then in natural conversation.
Treatment for a phonological disorder will commonly target a handful of sounds that have similar error patterns. This will include repetition of the specific sounds that are difficult and increasing awareness around lip, tongue, and jaw placement when speaking. If your child is struggling to produce clear and coherent speech, they would likely benefit from time with an experienced speech and language pathologist. Get started with speech therapy by scheduling your free introductory call today!